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'Life Cycle Assessment' Basic Concepts

Life Cycle Assessment serves as a scientific base for certification quality

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The term "life cycle assessment" refers to a fair, holistic assessment that includes the analysis of all process elements, including raw material extraction, processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of life outcome, including all intervening transportation steps.

Life Cycle Assessments provide a method to scientifically understand a product, process, or service's full impact on the environment.

The information learned from an LCA can help a company

  • Identify areas that need attention,
  • Chart future environmental improvements,
  • Develop new products that have a lower environmental burden

ISO and Life Cycle Assessment

ISO (International Standards Organizaton) compliant LCAs should be the basis of any environmental certification or label, and can be used for comparing materials for selection. This information is also critical for the validation of any lawful marketing that makes sustainability or green claims.

Manufacturers must identify the full impact their products and processes have on the environment - this is known as an environmental footprint. The best way to establish footprint is to conduct an ISO-compliant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

Life Cycle Assessment is the full identification and evaluation of the environmental impact of a given product, process, or service throughout its lifespan.

Life Cycle Assessment measures a product’s environmental footprint through its entire life cycle against 12 Environmental Impact Categories (EIC).

Process Stages of a Product's Life Cycle

A bio-based product’s Life Cycle (like Marmoleum) can be organized into 3 categories covering all process elements:
  1. Field to Gate
  2. Gate to Gate
  3. Gate to Field/Final Disposition

Field to Gate covers Raw Material Acquisition, and Pre-processing. These processes generally involve outside companies and suppliers.

Gate to Gate covers environmental impacts within a manufacturer’s facility. This impact is the easiest for a manufacturer to control.

Gate to Field covers the Distribution, Installation, Use and Maintenance, and End of Life Outcome. Impacts here are often represented by manufacturers as life cycle costing, yet life cycle costing only measures the financial, non-environmental impacts.

Environmental Impact Categories of Life Cycle Assessment

The Process Elements are measured equally against the following 12 Environmental Impact Categories

  • Global Warming
  • Acidification
  • Eutrophication
  • Natural Resource Depletion
  • Solid Waste Generation
  • Ecological Toxicity
  • Human Toxicity
  • Ozone Depletion
  • Smog Formation
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Embodied Energy Content
  • Habitat Alteration
The cumulative impacts of all process elements across all impact categories forms the full Life Cycle Assessment.

LCA Example of Marmoleum, a Biobased Product

Marmoleum® is one of the first floor coverings to have an independently created, peer reviewed LCA study published about its Life Cycle Assessment. A downloadable version of their report can be found at:

Marmoleum LCA Study

ISO 14040 Incorporates LCA Protocol

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed environmental management standards (ISO 14000) that incorporate LCA protocol (ISO 14040).

The ISO 14001 environmental management standards help organizations repetitively duplicate, measure and report, and improve how their operations impact the environment. Further, they enable compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements.

Forbo Flooring Systems

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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